Will new leadership bring donors back to Malawi?

Human rights and governance issues caused Malawi to lose hundreds of millions in much-needed aid money. Activists and businessmen in the African country are now hoping the new president can win all that funding back.

Joyce Banda officially assumed the presidency Saturday (April 7), two days after Bingu wa Mutharika died from a heart attack. Mutharika has had a tense relationship with Banda since 2010, when he tried to remove her from the vice presidency to pave the way for his brother and current foreign minister Peter’s presidential candidacy in 2014.

Banda is not an economist like Mutharika but she has won national and international awards for her work in advancing women’s rights. For Malawians, Banda is their beacon of hope.

“We want good governance and we believe she will indeed insure that the international community sees that she’s committed to that,” human rights activist Ralph Kasambara told The Wall Street Journal.

One of Banda’s first moves since taking office seems to support that. A day after being sworn in as president, Banda sacked police chief Peter Mukhito, a Mutharika appointee accused of carrying out arbitrary arrests and shooting 19 people at last year’s anti-government protests, the Guardian reports.

But it will take more than just cleaning up the “old guard” for donors to restore aid flows to Malawi. Many of these donors had said resumption of aid would only follow after the International Monetary Fund restarts its $79 million loan program with Malawi, WSJ says. But IMF first requires Malawi to devalue its currency, something Mutharika refused to do as it would “hurt the poor,” Reuters reports.  

While Banda has said she will work on restoring relations with IMF and other donors, she has yet to lay out the groundwork to do this and stimulate the economy.

Malawians should also look to their country’s history to temper their optimism, Malawi independent newspaper the Nation says in an editorial: Once promising leaders — including Mutharika — eventually turned out to be arrogant and corrupt.

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About the author

  • Aimee Rae Ocampo

    As former Devex editor for business insight, Aimee created and managed multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development.